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  • Matt Crumpton

Ep 32: Oswald in the Marines (Part 1)

Updated: Apr 23

We’ve spent the last few episodes going through the basic biography of Lee Harvey Oswald’s life from the time he was born until the time he joined the Marines, including several instances of discrepancies with the documents and witness statements that call in to question the official timeline of schools, houses, and jobs that Oswald worked.

 

In this episode, we begin our analysis of Oswald’s time in the Marines. We’ll continue to unpack the major documented moments in Oswald’s biography, like when he shot himself in the arm in Japan and when he freaked out and started shooting at nothing in the woods in Taiwan. We’ll also cover more discrepancies with the documents and witness statements that raise questions about the Warren Report’s timeline for Oswald’s life.

 

San Diego and Camp Pendleton

 

Lee Harvey Oswald’s mom said that he had been studying the Marine manual continuously since he dropped out of Warren Easton High School. So, it’s no surprise that Oswald joined the Marines as soon as he could.[1]Both of his brothers, John and Robert, had previously joined the military.[2] Lee was following in their tracks. After signing a three-year enlistment contract, Oswald reported to the Marine Corps recruit depot in San Diego on October 26, 1956 – about one week after he turned 17 years old.[3] He requested to be given the duty of aircraft maintenance repair, which is what he was assigned.[4]

 

Oswald’s military career began in San Diego, where he attended boot camp and was trained to use weapons.[5] He was first given a weapons test while in San Diego, where he scored a 212 with an M1 rifle, which was barely enough to qualify for the middle ranking of “sharpshooter” on a marksman-sharpshooter-expert scale.[6]

 

Oswald left San Diego in January of 1957 for Camp Pendleton, California,[7] where he attended training with the same 8 man squad he had previously been at boot camp with in San Diego. Those 8 marines in training all shared the same tent at Camp Pendleton.[8] The only one of them who was interviewed by the FBI was Allen Felde. None of these marines were interviewed by the Warren Commission.

 

Felde said that Oswald continually discussed politics and that he was “left-winged.”[9] Felde also said that on five different occasions, when the members of the 8 man squad had leave, all of the squad went together to Tijuana or to Los Angeles, but Oswald never went with them and always did his own thing.[10]

 

The only other person from Camp Pendleton who recalled Oswald and was interviewed by the FBI was Sergeant Donald Goodwin, who supervised a group of twenty men, which included Oswald. Goodwin told the FBI that Oswald was a radio communicator and that he QUOTE “owned or had the use of a private automobile, and spent a lot of time and effort re-upholstering the interior.”[11] This is interesting because we know that Lee Harvey Oswald could not drive a car and did not own one. We also know that Oswald’s job wasn’t in radio communications, but was in aircraft maintenance. So, what is going on with Sergeant Goodwin’s statement? Was he just confused?

 

Sergeant Goodwin says he was with Oswald during the entirety of the 90 or so days that Goodwin spent at Camp Pendleton. In June of 1957, Goodwin was transferred to another division, and Oswald was still at Camp Pendleton when he left. Goodwin’s recollection of the dates, combined with Marine Corps Unit Diaries for Goodwin, sets the stage for yet another conflict in the timeline for the whereabouts of Lee Harvey Oswald.

 

Warren Commission Exhibit 1961 provides a list of all of Oswald’s assignments while he was in the Marines. That document says that Oswald arrived at Camp Pendleton on January 20, 1957 and left for training at a base in Jacksonville, Florida on February 26, 1957.[12]

 

But, remember Sergeant Goodwin puts Oswald at Camp Pendleton in June of 1957. He’s not the only one who disagreed with the Warren Report timeline. Allen Felde told the FBI that he was with Oswald at Camp Pendleton in March, April and May of 1957.[13] The Marine Corps Unit Diaries that list the names of the marines in each unit and their whereabouts says that Felde arrived in Jacksonville in May of 1957, which confirms the timeline of Felde’s FBI statement.[14]

 

In addition to Goodwin and Felde’s statements (and corresponding Marine Corps Unit Diaries), Oswald himself provided a handwritten statement about his background to the Dallas Police when he was arrested. In that statement, Oswald said that he served at “Camp Pendleton from April to May 1957.”[15]

 

Clearly, there is a discrepancy between CE 1961, the Warren Report’s official timeline, and the recollections of Donald Goodwin and Allen Felde (both of which are bolstered by the actual Marine Corps Unit Diaries), and Oswald himself. I’m not yet sure what this means, but I do find it strange that these conflicts have never been reconciled.  

 

Jacksonville and Biloxi

 

After Camp Pendleton, the Warren Report says that Oswald attended Aviation Fundamentals School in Jacksonville, Florida from March 18 through May 3 of 1957.[16] During his 6 weeks in Jacksonville, he finished 46th in his class of 54 and was promoted to Private First Class.[17] 

 

Next, Oswald was stationed at Keesler Air force base in Biloxi, Mississippi from May 4 to June 19, 1957, where he would learn about aircraft surveillance and the use of radar.[18] Daniel Powers was Oswald’s direct superior while he was at Keesler. Powers first impression of Oswald was that he was somewhat a loner. He was meek and could easily be led, and his general personality would alienate the group against him. He was known as ‘the frail little puppy in the litter’ and was nicknamed Ozzie Rabbit because of his meekness.[19]

 

Powers told the Warren Commission that Oswald would usually go back to New Orleans – about two hours from Biloxi - on the weekend. At this time, Oswald’s mom was living in Fort Worth. The only person Oswald knew well enough to stay overnight in New Orleans would have been his aunt, Lillian Murrett. When we examine Powers’ statement, it yet again raises inconsistencies between the documents and the Warren Report conclusions.

 

Remember, CE 1961 says that Oswald was in Jacksonville from March 18 to May 3. Then, Oswald took a train directly to Biloxi with Daniel Powers and other marines. CE 1961 then says that Oswald was stationed in Biloxi from May 4 to June 19.

 

But, Oswald’s aunt, Lillian Murrett, told the Warren Commission that Oswald visited her briefly in late April1957 on a Saturday.[20] They went to lunch and Oswald told his aunt that he was going to be stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi. Then, she dropped Oswald off near the customhouse by the river. She added that he never came to visit or wrote letters when he was at Keesler.[21] This adds even more confusion because Oswald was gone most weekends according to his supervisor, Daniel Powers.

 

Yet again, we have a discrepancy in the timeline. The train from Jacksonville to Biloxi was a straight shot. There was no time off between the two bases. It’s not possible that Oswald could have visited his aunt in April 1957 unless he drove from Jacksonville to New Orleans and back (which is 450 miles). But, given that he said nothing about Jacksonville to his aunt and there is no evidence that Oswald had access to a car, that doesn’t seem to make sense either. The easiest thing to do would be to write off Lillian Murrett and say that she is wrong about the date of this visit. But, she’s actually reading through Oswald’s diary when she says that.

 

Some clarity can be provided by looking at the Warren Commission testimony of Lillian Murrett. Commission Counsel Albert Jenner gave Murrett a document, CE 540, and she had this document in front of her during the following exchange:

 

Jenner: … Commission Exhibit 540 has a series of pages … purporting to be photostatic copies of the diary or the memoirs of Lee Harvey Oswald written in his hand and found by [Dallas Police] in his room…

 

Murrett: Well, here’s one that says he was, you see, when he stopped in that Saturday, you know, we didn’t know where he was going. But he said he was going to be stationed at Keesler Field.

 

I tried to find the diary that Murrett was referencing when she said “here’s one”. It would be great to know what she was looking at that made her think Unfortunately, Jenner must have described the document as the wrong number because CE 540 is not a diary.

 

In addition to the question about where Oswald was going on weekends in Biloxi, and whether he actually visited his aunt in New Orleans before going to Biloxi, we have major inconsistencies in the marine records themselves as pointed out by the Warren Commission testimony of Daniel Powers.

 

When Powers showed up for his interview, he brought his travel orders documentation with him. Powers then read into the transcript a few key identifying numbers: 3383rd Student Squadron, Course Number AB27037, Class 08057, Military Occupational Specialty 6747. 

 

The problem is that the these numbers that were in the document that Powers read to the Commission do not match the same numbers for Lee Harvey Oswald that are in the Warren Commission volumes as Folsom Exhibit 1. Specifically, on page 119 Oswald’s orders dated May 27, 1957 listed the course number as AB27330 (not 27037!), the class number was listed as 24047 (not 08057!).[22] Also, on Oswald’s Student Summary of Technical Training document for Keesler, it says he was in MOS 6741 and that he was in the 3380th Squadron (not the 3383!).[23]

 

Either Daniel Powers was just making up random numbers from the document in front of him and lying to the Commission, or we have yet another confusing situation of the evidence not lining up with other known facts. I can’t think of any good reasons why Oswald’s paperwork wouldn’t match up with his superior’s paperwork (about Oswald) for the same period of time. Can you?

 

JAPAN

 

On July 9, 1957, Oswald reported to the Marine Air Corps Station in El Toro, California to prepare for a deployment to Japan. He departed from San Diego for Yokosuka, Japan on August 22 on the USS Bexar and arrived in Japan on September 12.[24] From September 12 through November 20, 1957, Oswald served at the Atsugi base, which had 117 marines.[25]

 

Atsugi hosted the Joint Technical Advisory Group, which was an operations base for the CIA in the far east. The U2 spy plane was based out of three locations, two in the middle east, and one at Atsugi, Japan.[26]Oswald was responsible for actually guarding the U2 in the hanger. The U2 flew over not just Russia, but China, as well. This information about the Chinese U2 flights was not a well known fact.[27]

 

The Accidental Shooting

 

About a month after arriving in Japan, on October 27, Oswald shot himself in the left elbow when he dropped a 22 caliber derringer, a non-military issued gun that was illegal for Oswald to possess, which Oswald had apparently acquired before getting on the ship.[28] Paul Murphy, a marine who bunked in the cubicle next to Oswald’s heard the shot, rushed in and found Oswald sitting on the locker and looking at his arm. Without emotion, Oswald said, “I believe I have shot myself."[29] This story was confirmed by 4 other marines who were nearby: George Wilkins, Richard Cyr, Jerry Pitts, and Robert Augg.[30]

 

After Oswald accidentally shot himself in the arm, he then spent two weeks at the hospital recuperating from his injury. Then, he was sent back with his unit for a November 20, 1957 trip to the Philippines for 4 weeks. During this time, Oswald was promoted to the rank of Corporal while he was assigned to a temporary radar station near Subic Bay, Philippines.[31]

 

On April 11, 1958, after Oswald had returned to Atsugi, he faced delayed punishment for the incident with the derringer (from almost 6 months earlier). He was court-martialed and found guilty for having the unauthorized gun, which was only discovered because Oswald accidentally shot himself. He lost his recent promotion to corporal, and was sentenced to twenty days of hard labor, which was suspended so long as Oswald stayed out of trouble.[32]

 

Unfortunately for Oswald, he was not able to maintain good behavior for very long. On June 20, 1958, Oswald almost got into a fight with Sergeant Miguel Rodriguez, who Oswald thought had been responsible for him having to work kitchen duty in the Philippines, which Oswald hated. While they were at the Bluebird Café in Yamato, Japan, Oswald accidentally spilled his drink on Sergeant Rodriguez, which led Rodriquez to stand up and shove Oswald. At that point, Oswald, who admitted that he was rather drunk, asked Rodriquez to take it outside for a fight.

 

This incident resulted in Oswald being court-martialed on June 27 for “using provoking words to a noncommissioned officer.”[33] He was sentenced to 28 days of hard labor and a $55 fine. He also had to serve another 20 days of hard labor which had been suspended from the accidental derringer discharge incident.[34]

 

TAIWAN

 

The next stop for Private First Class Oswald was most likely Taiwan. Although, as you will see, this time in Taiwan is the most disputed period of time during Oswald’s marine service.

 

One night, while on guard duty in Taiwan, Oswald began firing his rifle at shadows in the woods. When the Lt. Charles Rhodes reached him, Oswald was slumped against a tree, shaking and crying.[35] He told Rhodes he had seen men in the woods, and that he challenged them, and then he started shooting.[36] As Oswald was walked back to his tent, he kept repeating that he could no longer bear guard duty. He was then sent to Japan to re-cooperate, ultimately returning to Atsugi on October 5, 1958.[37] Lt. Rhodes said that he thought Oswald staged the episode on purpose so that he would be sent back to Japan, which is exactly what happened.[38]

 

This incident is not mentioned in the Warren Report. All that the Warren Report says about this period of time is that Oswald left Atsugi for the South China Sea on September 14, was in Taiwan on September 30, and returned to Atsugi on October 5th.[39] There is no discussion at all of Oswald shooting in the woods and freaking out. That anecdote apparently became famous from Edward Epstein’s book Legend: The Secret World of Lee Harvey Oswald. Gerald Posner and Vincent Bugliosi repeated the Taiwan Guard Duty Freak Out story in each of their popular books defending the Warren Report.

 

Despite the Warren Report claiming Oswald was in Taiwan and despite Posner and Bugliosi embracing the story of Oswald shooting in the Taiwanese woods, there is reason to believe that Oswald never traveled to Taiwan at all.

 

On September 16, 1958 – two days after the Warren Report says that Oswald left Atsugi for Taiwan – medical records show that Oswald saw the senior medical officer at Atsugi, Captain Deranian, about a painful urethral discharge he was having. Captain Deranian diagnosed Oswald with gonorrhea and prescribed three days of penicillin.[40] Oswald was again treated for gonorrhea on September 20, September 22, September 23, and September 29.[41] All of these medical records also have Oswald’s identification number on them: 1653230.

 

So, Oswald had gonnorhea and received treatment for it – in Atsugi - from September 16 through September 29. These medical documents are not compatible with the timeline of Oswald’s whereabouts provided by the Warren Report and CE 1961, which lists the locations and corresponding dates where Oswald served in the military.[42]

 

The problem is that there is strong evidence that Oswald really was in Taiwan at the time like the Warren Report says. In addition to the witnesses interviewed by Edward Epstein and CE 1961, we have the Marine Corps Unit Diary No 151-158, which shows that Oswald and his unit departed from Japan on September 14 aboard the USS Skagit.[43] Once he was in the Soviet Union, Oswald told author Priscilla Johnson that he had spent time in Formosa, while in the Marines.[44] On top of that, there are multiple declassified Naval messages say that Oswald served in Taiwan.[45]

 

Putting this all together, we have medical documents that show Oswald was receiving medical care in Atsugion five occasions during the time he was supposed to be at sea or in Taiwan. But, we also have lots of internal military documents showing that Oswald was in Taiwan, which is what the Warren Report relied upon. We then have the memorable story about Oswald freaking out and shooting in the woods, which is the cherry on top to show that Oswald was in Taiwan.

 

HSCA SAYS NO TAIWAN

 

Here's where the “was Oswald in Taiwan or wasn’t he” saga gets even wilder. In 1978, investigators for the House Select Committee on Assassinations found out about the medical records showing Oswald receiving treatment for Gonorrhea in Atsugi when he was supposed to be in Taiwan. So, HSCA chief counsel, Robert Blakey, wrote to Secretary of Defense at the time, Harold Brown, and asked QUOTE “During which periods was Oswald separated from his units overseas because of hospitalization?” Blakey then explained the basis of the question, which was the conflicting evidence between the medical records showing Oswald in Atsugi and the Marine Corps Unit diaries showing he was in Taiwan - at the same time.[46]

 

A few weeks later, the Department of Defense responded by saying QUOTE “Oswald did not sail from Yokosuka, Japan on September 16, 1958. He remained at Naval Air Station Atsugi as part of the MAG 2 rear echelon.”[47]

 

Relying on this letter from the Department of Defense, the HSCA found that Oswald never went to Taiwan! The HSCA said QUOTE “It does not appear that he spent any time in Taiwan. This finding is contrary to that of the Warren Commission…but the Commission analysis apparently was made without access to the unit diaries of [Oswald’s unit].”[48]

 

This whole question of “was Oswald in Taiwan” is one of the most mysterious topics surrounding Oswald’s time in the military. There is overwhelming evidence that he was in Taiwan. We have the unit diaries, the statement from Lt. Rhodes who found Oswald after he had shot in to the woods, Oswald’s own references to being in Taiwan from talking to reporters, and several declassified Navy communications about Oswald’s background once he was in the Soviet Union.

 

On the other hand, we have just a few pages of medical records showing that Oswald was still in Atsugi. The notion that the Department of Defense would overrule the Warren Commission to the HSCA and say that Oswald never went to Taiwan makes absolutely no sense to me given the competing evidence that he was in Taiwan.

 

As I always do when I am presented with a fact that seems to be too fantastical, I went to Vincent Bugliosi and Gerald Posner to see how they dealt with the issue. Neither of them mentioned the fact that the HSCA – because of a letter from the Department of Defense – said Oswald was never in Taiwan. Bugliosi works the Atsugi medical records into the timeline of Oswald going to Taiwan and assumes that the medical records are from treatments done when Oswald was in Taiwan or at sea.[49]

 

I do not find Bugliosi’s theory to be supported by the evidence for a few reasons. First, the documents say “MACS 1” on the medical documents, which is Atsugi. Second, there is a stamp on all of the medical records at issue that says “NAVY 3835,” which was the base number for Atsugi. Presumably, if Oswald was stationed somewhere else or was on the USS Skagit when he received the treatment, it would have listed the actual location on the document.

 

Another reason to doubt Bugliosi’s interpretation is the Warren Commission testimony of Captain George Donabedian, who was brought in to help clarify the meaning of Oswald’s records. During that testimony, Donabedian said “on [September 16, 1958] [Oswald] evidently went to one of the outlying dispensaries, and they said “Send to the mainside for smear, which means he was sent to the mainside dispensary to get the smear taken.”[50] In military parlance, the mainside complex is the one that is closest to the main base.[51]This testimony makes it clear that Oswald initially sought treatment at another military clinic that was not the mainside clinic, and that he was then sent to the mainside clinic in Atsugi on September 16.

 

But, most notably, I doubt Bugliosi’s interpretation because the official position of the government is now that Oswald was never in Taiwan. Why would the government take this position in the face of so much evidence to the contrary? I don’t know. But, it seems like they must have reason to believe that Oswald really was in Atsugi. Otherwise, the HSCA and Department of Defense would have simply adopted Bugliosi’s position.

 

But, what I keep coming back to is “what about all of the other documents? What about Lt. Rhodes testimony? Something must have happened in Taiwan with Oswald. Are we supposed to just forget that evidence exists?

 

NEXT TIME ON SOLVING JFK: We continue to examine the remainder of Oswald’s time in the marines, including more discrepancies with the records, and a tiny little college that Oswald applied to in Switzerland.

 


[1] Warren Report, p 680.

[2] Gerald Posner, Case Closed, at 10.

[3] Id. at 20.

[4] John Armstrong, Harvey & Lee, at 147.

[5] Warren Report at 681.  

[7] Posner at 21.

[8] Marine Corps Unit Diary 16-57, p 925.

[10] Id.

[13] FBI Interview of Allen Felde

[14] Marine Corps Unit Diary 105-57, p 724. (Available in Armstrong’s Harvey & Lee, CD-Rom, 57-16).

[16] CE 1961

[17] Armstrong at 158.

[18] CE 1961, Warren Report at 682.

[19] Posner at 21.

[20] Armstrong at 161.

[21] Lillian Murrett Warren Commission Testimony, https://www.jfk-assassination.net/russ/testimony/murretl2.htm

[23] Student Summary of Technical Training Documents, National Archives, Available in Armstrong, Harvey & Lee at CD-Rom 57-14.

[24] Warren Report at 683.

[25] Armstrong at 168.

[26] James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, at 127.

[27] Id.

[28] Posner at 23; 10/27/1957 Medical Report at US Navy Hospital in Yokosuku.

[29] Warren Report at 683.

[30] Armstrong at 174-175.

[31] Posner at 23.

[32] Id. at 24.

[33] Warren Report at 684.

[34] Warren Report at 684.

[35] Posner at 28.

[36] Vincent Bugliosi, Reclaiming History at 558.

[37] Id.

[38] Id.

[39] Warren Report at 684.

[40] Chronological Record of Medical Care, Dated September 16, 1958, available at Harvey and Lee CD-Rom, Folder 58-19.

[41] Id. at Folder 58-19 through 58-22.

[42] CE 1961.

[43] Marine Corps Unit Diary, 151-158 (744) at Harvey & Lee, CD-ROM, 58-12.

[44] Available at Harvey & Lee, CD-ROM, 58-14.

[45] Navy message of November 4, 1959 (#22257 FF265651), available at Harvey & Lee, CD-ROM, 58-16; see also Message from Lt. D. E. Sigsworth to Chief of Naval Operations in Moscow, available at Harvey & Lee, CD-ROM, 58-17.

[46] Letter from Robert Blakey to Harold Brown, Available at Harvey & Lee, CD-ROM, 58-23.

[47] Letter from Judith Miller to Robert Blakey, June 22, 1978, Available at Harvey & Lee, CD-ROM, 58-24.

[48] HSCA Final Report, p 220.

[49] Bugliosi at 558.

[50] Warren Commission Testimony of Captain George Donabedian - https://www.history-matters.com/archive/jfk/wc/wcvols/wh8/pdf/WH8_Donabedian.pdf

[51] See Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton Base Guide - https://www.military.com/base-guide/marine-corps-base-camp-pendleton

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